Always in God’s Hands (A Review)

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards by Owen Strachan

A new year is just around the corner and this latest title provides a devotional resource that will introduce readers to Edwards’s God-exalting writings on a day by day basis. Owen Strachan ,who coauthored The Essential Jonathan Edwards and teaches at MBTS,  has given readers daily excerpts from the works of Edwards as well as Strachan’s reflections upon the various excerpts.

Strachan’s work in this devotion helps give an introduction to Edwards thought as well as providing contemporary reflection. This devotional will be a helpful resource in the new year, not just in introducing readers to the writings of Edwards, but also in thinking big thoughts about a big God.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Luther’s theology of the cross and the church

In honor of Reformation I’m sharing some previous work I have done on Luther’s theology of the cross in relation to the church.
Luther’s view of the Church was shaped by his theology of the cross. Luther in his work On the Councils and the Church put forward a seventh mark of the true church which was considered revolutionary for his time. Luther is speaking of how the Church is to be recognized says:

Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possessions of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trails and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ…In summary, they must be called heretics, knaves, and devils, the most pernicious people on earth, to the point where those who hang, drown, murder, torture, banish, and plague them to death are rendering God a service.

The Church in the eyes of Luther was not to be a privileged institution, safe and secure in the world. The idea that the true Church could enjoy peace and affluence in the world was unthinkable to Luther. For the Church to be the Church it must suffer for the sake of Christ. Where there is no bearing of the cross for the sake of Christ there is no Church. This is owing to Luther’s theology of the cross, because God can only be known through the suffering of the cross and this necessitates that the people of God partake in the suffering that comes through the cross. The cross is at the center of what it means for the people of God to be the Church of Christ. Oberman in addressing Luther’s understanding of the suffering Church points out tolerance and acceptance as a great danger to the Church. Luther calls the tolerance that he saw emerging as the trap of the devil because it threatened this mark of the Church.

Luther’s view of the role and gifting of the pastor display the outworking of the theology of the cross in the context of pastoral ministry. Luther says the following about God’s work in preachers: “God very wonderfully entrusts his highest office to preachers that are themselves poor sinner who, while teaching it, very weakly follow it. Thus goes it ever with God’s power in our weakness; for when he is weakest in us, then is he strongest.” Whereas human wisdom would think that the power of God would be evidenced in the strength and sufficiency of those whom he has called to proclaim his word, Luther sees that God works contrary to human wisdom. God will not allow human wisdom or human works to dictate whom he will use as his instrument. This is the outworking of the theology of the cross being worked out in regards to pastoral ministry. The theologian of glory would not accept this statement by Luther.

Luther’s dealings with those those whom he disagreed with such as the Anabaptists, paptists, and other groups show the importance of the theology of the cross in his work. The theology of the cross was the theological framework through which he evaluated all the groups and thoughts he came into contact with. For example in writing to Melanchthon he gives the following guidelines:

In order to explore their individual spirit too, you should inquire whether they have experienced spiritual distress and the divine birth, death, and hell. If you should hear that all [their experiences] are pleasant, quiet, devout (as they say), and spiritual, then don’t approve of them, even if they should say that they were caught up up to the third heaven. The sign of the Son of Man is then missing, which is the only touchstone of Christians and a certain differentiator between the spirits…Therefore examine [them] and do not even listen if they speak of the glorified Jesus, unless you have first heard the crucified Jesus…

The mark of the Christian is to be quickened through being killed by the Word of God. God is the one who contrary to all expectation makes alive through killing. These prophets of glory spoke of wonderful experiences of rapturous delight and glory, that in itself was enough for Luther to call their teaching into question. That emphasis was entirely contrary to the core of Luther’s theology of the cross. One must have the mark of the Son of Man, the mark of the cross made upon the life of the believer. To have a glorious Christ divorced from the cross was to have a false Christ and was to be a false prophet. As suffering and persecution make the Church the true Church, so also bearing the cross on the individual level makes a Christian a true Christian. The mark of the Son of Man is to bear the suffering of the cross in this present world, this was something Luther felt was lacking in the experience of many of the false teachers he came in contact with.

Through My Father’s Eyes (A Review)

Through My Father’s Eyes by Franklin Graham with Donna Lee Toney

In this title Franklin  Graham provides a heart felt look at his father’s life and prolific ministry. While not an unbiased source Franklin provides a first hand account of his father that sheds light on who Billy Graham was outside of his pulpit ministry. Clearly evident in this work is the love Franklin has for his father which is one of the greatest testimonies any man could have.

In thirteen chapters Franklin explores Billy Graham’s marriage to Ruth, his spiritual life, his ministry, and his interaction with the broader culture. The greatest weakness of this book is that at times it becomes more of a defense and promotion of Franklin than a remembrance of his father. For instance the recounting of the resistance to placing Franklin as his father’s successor at BGEA seems out of place in this work and diminishes the chapter. Another example of where the focus seems unduly placed on Franklin rather than his father is the final chapter in which Franklin recounts Trump’s election and Franklin’s role in it, that seems to miss the purpose of this book in memorializing his father who was famously nonpartisan and ministered across political lines.

Despite the times when the focus seems to shift off Billy Graham to Franklin himself overall this is a good read and provides the reader a greater appreciation of the life and ministry of Billy Graham.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Jesus Revolution (A Review)

Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today by [Laurie, Greg, Vaughn, Ellen]

Jesus Revolution by Greg Laurie & Ellen Vaughn

Looking at our contemporary context many find themselves asking if anything can transform a drug-addled and sexually confused culture. In this book which recounts how a generation which was much like the current one saw a mighty work of God. In this book Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn provides readers an eyewitness account of the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s especially as in relation to Laurie, Chuck Smith, and Calvary Chapel in California.

Having not had a great familiarity with the Jesus Movement I have found this book to be both historically informative and encouraging. Like any revival in the history of the church there were extremes and at times false converts, but as is seen in this book there was lasting good that occurred as a result of that movement. As the authors note in their concluding chapter, “Revivals are unorganized, messy, and fraught with risks for those who are not wearing the full armor of God (p. 245).”

I hope other readers will be as encouraged by this book and see the need of revival in the church today. While revival, a genuine work of God, cannot be manufactured it is something we should all pray for.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

12 Faithful Men: A Review

12 Faithful Men edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson

Pastors can never have too much encouragement in the trenches of pastoral ministry. Encouragement is exactly what the contributors to this volume have provided for pastors.

Twelve contributors explore the example of twelve godly pastors who suffered disappointment and suffering in different ways in the midst of pastoral ministry and remained faithful to the end. Men who are faithful to the end are needed role models for those of us in ministry today as a great number seem to be disqualifying themselves early on through infidelity in the church or in the home. Most of those looked at in this volume are familiar names whose life stories many pastors are familiar with. Three individuals who were unknown to me were John Chavis African-American pastor who faced great difficulty due to 19th century racism, Ugandan martyr Jana Luwum, and Chinese pastor Wang Ming-Dao who suffered under communist oppression.

Christian biography, especially biography of faithful ministers, is a great encouragement for those in pastoral ministry. I would commend this book to pastors and ministry leaders as it is a great source of encouragement.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, Wife of Charles H. Spurgion(A Review)

Susie by Ray Rhodes

Susie Spurgeon, one of the most influential women in church history, has been one of the most neglected in terms of Christian biography. This neglect has been remedied in Ray Rhodes’s masterfully research biography due to be released September 4, 2018. Ray has scoured over primary sources to provide as full of an understanding of her life and contributions as possible.

As author Ray Rhodes notes there is scant information on the first twenty years of her life. It is with the calling of her future husband as pastor of New Park Chapel in London that the reader really begins to know Susie. Rhodes sheds light on Susie’s initial impressions of her future as well as the progress of their courtship. Susie’s role as mother to twins Thomas and Charles also brings to attention the sacrifice that the family made arising from the vastness of Spurgeon’s ministry. One can imagine that if Susie had not been a devoted and godly mother they would have turned out very differently.  She shared in the sufferings of her husband as well as bearing her own physical sufferings that took a serious toll on her health. These sufferings proved to be what led her to pursue a ministry that she is greatly known for, providing books for impoverished pastors and missionaries. It is in books that Susie has greatest legacy not only in the ones given as a support for those in ministry but also those written by her.

For those who have appreciated the life and labors of C.H. Spurgeon this title is truly a treasure that has been unearthed. While many of Spurgeon’s biographers will give some information on Susie such as their courtship, her illness, and her book fund. None of them have put in the painstaking effort of researching her to such an extent where she comes alive on the page, which is exactly what Ray Rhodes has done in this work. I’d highly recommend this title because as with her husband’s life story hers is one that has much to teach us today.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

The Essential Jonathan Edwards : A Review

The Essential Jonathan Edwards by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney

In 2010 the five-volume Essential Edwards was published by the authors of this volume. The authors have compiled much of that work into this present volume, making it much easier to access their previous work. If you’re just discovering Jonathan Edwards this book would be a great starting point to understand his life and his work as one of if not the greatest theologian America has ever produced.

This volume is divided into five sections following the same structure as the five-volume series published eight years ago. The first section provides a biographical overview of his life. The second explores the theme of beauty which was a common theme in his written works and sermons. The third section traces Edwards understanding of the good life. The fourth section addresses the nature of true Christianity as opposed to nominalism. The final section traces Edwards’s understanding of heaven and hell and how that understanding shaped his life and ministry.

This year will mark the 260th anniversary of Edwards’s passing and after all those years his works are still in print and still relevant today. Edwards served his day as a model pastor-theologian a dying breed in our day. His love of God and his commitment to sound doctrine and true godliness are evidenced not just in his writings but in his life work. If you’re unfamiliar with Edwards you won’t go wrong with reading this book.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards: A Review

A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards
Nathan A. FinnJeremy M. Kimble

Jonathan Edwards is considered the greatest theologian and philosopher America has produced, his writings have been in print since his life time, yet many can be daunted in where to start reading Edwards and how to read Edwards. This book helps to address both challenges.

This book draws on a wide range of church historians in addressing the major works of Edwards.  Each contributor helps the reader understand the background behind the writings of Edwards which is important for understanding Edwards’s thought. The contributions range from a general overview of how read Edwards by Dane Ortland to more specific overviews such as Nathan Finn’s chapter on Edwards autobiographical spiritual writings, Jeremy Kimble’s chapter on the revival writings, Michael McClenahan on justification, Gerald McDermott on Religious Affections, Rhys Bezzant on the Life of David Brainerd, Joe Rigney on Freedom of the Will, Robert Caldwell of Original Sin, History of the Works of Redemption by Sean Michael Lucas, Edwards’s Affectional Ethics by Paul Helm, and an appendix by a man who has does much to popular the work of Edwards today John Piper. Each of these provides valuable insight on the work of Edwards.

Personally I enjoyed most the chapter on the revival writings of Edwards as it provides great background information in regards to Edwards work as an apologist for the Great Awakening. I also enjoyed the chapter on The Life of David Brainerd a work that has had a profound impact on the history of Christian missions. If you’re looking at reading Edwards I would commend this book, if you’re wondering where you can find his works they are available in many print editions as well as here http://edwards.yale.edu/ .

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Puritans and Pastoring Episode 3: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine

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In the latest episode of Puritans and Pastoring I look at A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine a work exemplary of Puritan evangelism. Alleine like many of the luminaries of the Christian church passed away at an extremely early age dying at the age of 34, though dead his work still speaks today.